Fallen Tauranga soldier subject of french doco

By Kiri Gillespie

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MAORI TRIBUTE: Tauranga man Gus Webster is interviewed by French documentary crew Marion Fiat (director) and filmed by cameraman Soufiane Yassine.PHOTO/ANDREW WARNER
MAORI TRIBUTE: Tauranga man Gus Webster is interviewed by French documentary crew Marion Fiat (director) and filmed by cameraman Soufiane Yassine.PHOTO/ANDREW WARNER

A Tauranga family heading to France this year to pay tribute to a fallen ancestor who fought and died in World War I has become the subject of French documentary makers.

Jack Webster (Tiaki Wepiha) was one of 15 Maori from Waitao who left New Zealand to help the French in World War I.

He never came home.

Next month his family will make the first collective pilgrimage to France, where he is buried, to pay their respects.

On Friday, members of the wider Webster family gathered in Welcome Bay to formally welcome the documentary crew who were following their journey.

With help from the RSA and the French Embassy, the documentary crew flew to New Zealand after learning of the family's story through the New Zealand Commission in France, which was dealing with the family's upcoming wedding next month.

Awanui Black, part of the wider Webster family, said the documentary makers jumped on the story because they were working on a project about fallen foreign soldiers buried in France.

"And in France there's very little known about the contribution of New Zealand and nothing about Maori.

"They found the story really intriguing."

Mr Black said the documentary focused on a Canadian man, a man from the United States and his ancestor Jack Webster.

Mr Black said the contribution of Maori from the Western Bay in World War I was significant.

"It was an opportunity to see the world.

"They were also encouraged in many respects to go to show their solidarity with New Zealand and with the British Empire in the hope that Maori would be considered equal in this country. It was actually referred to as the 'price of citizenship'.

"So there are all these emotions happening on Friday," Mr Black said.

"We also had the last of our elders, in their 80s and 90s, who remember those people, so it was very tangible for them."

The documentary crew arrived last week and flew out yesterday.

Gus Webster, who is the eldest living male descendant in the Webster family, said his cousin was getting married next month in the Czech Republic and an entourage of whanau were heading over for the event.

As part of the trip, the family would make the journey to Calais in France where their great-grand-uncle was buried.

Jack Webster never had any children, but descendants from his parents would span to about 250 people in the Western Bay.

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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